Anyone watching the scenes playing out in the US Congress will find the following extremely common: Hours of showmanship that is completely staged for the media, with zero intent to really negotiate and reach some form of agreement between the two parties. Any bill that is brought to the table by one of the parties is first measured on one merit: Will passing it make “us” look better and “them” look worse?
The duopoly (i.e. the rule of 2 parties) in US politics has poisoned the ability to agree on anything because both sides have grown to believe that politics is a zero-sum game. They are convinced that there is always a higher cause, which is winning “the game”. Anything that may give the president of the other party any points, is wrong — by definition. It does not matter if a policy proposal is good or bad. Even if the proposal has 90% of the content “we” believe in — we should not support it, or even negotiate it, if it makes the other side look like they accomplished anything.
Whether you are right or left, your party has refined the narrative of doom that will happen if the other party wins the next election to the presidency/House/Senate, which then justifies why you MUST elect us and not them, and why everything is legitimate in the name of this epic battle: Especially avoiding giving any “points” to the other side by agreeing on things. Agreeing on anything has become an extreme exception and not the rule.
For many of you, especially the ones living here for decades, this has been the reality for so long, that this article will seem really boring — you already know this, and probably deep in one of the camps. Some of the readers may recognize the duopoly as a problem, but probably lost hope of a change, so you are left in hoping your “side” will win.
The two parties have evolved their policy positions over the decades in order to attract more voters, sometimes making dramatic changes. I intentionally avoid bringing the examples to avoid “triggering” readers too early — I am sure you can bring few examples for your least favorite party — hint: look at how both evolved since the 40s. If you agree with this evolutionary insight, you will also have to agree with the following prognosis: If one of the two parties will become a minority (say 40% vs. 60%) in the future — then the minority party is likely to adopt new policy positions, in order to get back to the 50–50 equilibrium, despite reversing an ideology it purported to hold so far. In other words, the prognosis I have is that the approximate 50/50 split we are in today, in both the House and Senate, is actually a long-term stable point that we are doomed to stay in, as long as we keep the current election system.
If we are to have any hope in fixing the ills of the duopoly, we must understand the root cause of this state. After all, if you read the writings of our founders, they had no idea that we will devolve into a system with exactly TWO parties that will dominate. Who would have thought that this huge continent, much bigger than Europe’s physical size would end up with just two parties? The founders were sure that congress will be a deliberative body, where individuals elected to the House and to the Senate, will actually negotiate and act as an effective legislature, while at the same time act as a check on the authority of the president, with careful checks and balances designed to balance between effective government and not-too-powerful government that would encroach on basic individual rights, nor state-rights.
So I bet that if the founders landed here today — they will ask — how the hell did you guys get to this situation? How did you get to be the country with the lowest turnout to vote, the lowest approval ratings among all democracies (that came to be AFTER you), and subject to an effective tyranny of two parties only for 350 million people, that cannot agree on any policy anyway?
The answer is simple: It is a combination of game theory, and the design of the basic building block in our House election system: The fact that House representatives are individually elected to represent a district . This district-based election is the basic DNA that our founders failed to predict the consequence of, for no fault of their own: 200 years ago you had no internet, and House members needed to be local to within a short physical distance from their voters, to have any interaction with them. In most states, this is a personal, winner-take-all, election. Playing the political game-theory over the past 200 years solidified the two-party system to a point that a third party has exactly ZERO statistical chance to get any meaningful representation in Washington.
A good proposal to install fair-choice-voting has indeed improved the ability to select individual people, that better reflect the priority choices of the district voters, but not the ability to get additional parties thriving, and this is because of the need to win voters district-by-district. To understand that let’s explore a theoretical example: Imagine that you started a party that you believe to have a fair chance of getting 10% of the popular vote on a national basis. Your potential voters are most likely spread around and not physically located in the same place. So then it is overwhelmingly likely that you will lose each and every district unless you had a hugely improbable concentration of them in few places. This is why most of the non-duopoly members in congress today, are not 3rd-party members but rather independents.
Over time, both parties objected to any changes and promoted the false idea that it is a good thing to have “your” representative. Remember “call your congress representative”? Both parties like you to think that you need the house members to keep being elected on the SMALLEST unit possible, as this solidifies their control, and the rest is a game-theory of 2 players — locked in an endless battle, for the benefit of the donors and lobbyists, but not the public. They want you to falsely believe that a representative must be from your physical district, even though in this day and age no one cares about your district borders: when it comes to making policy decisions in Washington on big issues, you want your voice represented and non of the national issues voted in Washington are relevant to a district border.
The solution I propose can be implemented by any state : Essentially drop the district-based election. Instead, the state’s allotted number of House representatives will come from parties that compete in elections inside that state and get the share of representatives, per the share of the state-wide votes. Every party can hold its own primaries in the state where delegates will compete for their place, or any means they see fit in submitting a ranked list of potential delegates in that state.
Popular elections for delegates to the legislature a is a well-known method implemented over 94 countries so far. This will pave the path to 3rd and fourth parties since it would lower the bar on getting voters that are dispersed in your state rather than your district.
Looping back to the problem statement I started with — once there is a 3rd party in the House of Representatives, having even just 5% of the House, you will see MUCH more effective negotiations in passing policy changes and solving real problems. Yes — multi-party negotiations may be messy, and lobbyists will still be there, but it will end the duopoly and the gridlock. No representative will have a “safe district” and the big parties will come under real voter scrutiny. Most importantly we will gradually step away from the abyss of complete societal breakdown, that the escalating battle of the duopoly is dragging us into.
It will take time, as we shall need to campaign for this proposition on a state-by-state basis, but if you truly want to end the duopoly — I do not think there is any other way, as this path does NOT require any change to our constitution. In my opinion, this is where the Unity movement needs to go (Bret Weinstein— are you reading this?). A hard problem will take years to fix, but we must start now and not shy away from dealing with the root cause. The identity of the president will not fix this, so let’s stop focusing on it. The duopoly wants you to focus on the presidency, so it can keep us hostage.
You can read more about the proposal here: